Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Happier trails

I ran my first trail race ever last Thursday.

Trail running is super trendy right now, so trust me, even I am rolling my eyes a little at this admission. But there are legit trails out here in Southern California, all over the place. Growing up in the 'burbs of southeastern Massachusetts, I always thought trails were things that you had to drive deep inside national parks and forests to get to. (This isn't true, of course, but in all fairness, my hometown didn't even have sidewalks.)

Now, all I want in life is to run ALL THE TRAILS.

I signed up for the third and final race in the Renegade Summer Trail Run Series after reading about it on an Orange County-based running blog called 365 Days of Awesome (a great read if you like running bloggers who aren't terrified of eating carbs). The race was to take place in a park a few miles from my office, and it sounded like fun.

A few weeks prior I did a "dress rehearsal" run in the same park. In general, running on dirt trail is more difficult than running on asphalt or concrete, but even so: it did not go very well. The temperature was in the mid-80s, and I spent 40 minutes slogging uphill, sucking wind, and hating my life. As a result, I had some serious nerves going into this race. I ignored the butterflies the best I could and tried to get on with it.

About one-tenth of a mile in, I approached a man and a little boy standing on the sidelines, cheering on the runners. "Dig deep!" they both shouted as I passed. At this point I've been running for what, one minute? I laughed out loud. If I have to dig deep now, I thought, this is going to be a long five miles.

The course was difficult, with several fairly steep hills. I was determined to run up each one without stopping, using the small rocks embedded in the dirt as stepping stones. My quads felt like they were going to burst into flames. I kept thinking about that little kid shouting "dig deep!" and then I'd laugh to myself all over again, forgetting my screaming legs for a second. The run was at once both glorious and humbling—just the way I like it. I never thought my mental strength would come from a cute little kid and his dad shouting some corny platitude at the 0.10-mile mark. They'll never read this, but: thanks, guys.